Snowbird Essential: Planning Your North-South Travel Route

Exploring the popular north-to-south Snowbird RV travel routes

Many snowbirds are north-south creatures, meaning those from the American Northwest and Western Canada tend to settle in Arizona, Nevada, and California; those from the Midwest and Central Canada flock to Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana; and those from the Northeast and Eastern Canada head for Florida.

A successful—and stress free—trip requires a little homework before you leave. Regardless of your journey, factor in the drive times and travel expenses.

Bellingham (Washington) RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In an earlier post we discussed keys to planning a successful and stress-free snowbird RV route with tips for traveling the two most popular East Coast routes—Interstates 95 and 75. In today’s post we explore the main routes for snowbird RV travel from the Northwest.

Snowbirds who RV south for the winter from the northwest have a choice of several routes with most opting for I-5 or 1-15 for a major portion of the journey.

La Conner, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main West Coast highway, Interstate 5, runs all the way from the British Columbia-Washington border at the Peace Arch south of Vancouver to southern California. It connects most of the major cities from Seattle and Portland to Los Angeles and San Diego. It largely parallels Highway 101 and California Route 1, or more famously known as the Pacific Coast Highway.

Columbia River RV Park, off I-5 in southern Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two major sight-seeing destinations are only short side trips from Interstate 5 in Washington. Ascending to 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier stands as an icon in the Washington landscape.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another interesting side trip from I-5 would be a visit to Mount St. Helens…or what’s left of it, I should say! To me, it was intriguing to see half of a mountain standing in a spot where a WHOLE mountain should have been. You’ll find an attractive visitor’s center in which you may view interpretive exhibits and see a film about the volcanic explosion at Mount St Helens.

Las Vegas RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joining the intermountain west with the desert southwest, Interstate 15 provides a major link between the interior of Canada, several transcontinental east-west corridors, Southern California, and Mexico. Travelers westbound on Interstates 40, 70 and 80 may easily transition to southbound I-15 to connect to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Between these destinations, I-15 is an extremely busy highway, frequently backing up on holiday weekends in the Mojave Desert.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between San Diego and Temecula, Interstate 15 replaced U.S. 395. U.S. 395 largely still exists today as a busy expressway route from Spokane, Washington south to Reno, Mammoth Lakes and Hesperia.

Ambassador RV Park, Caldwell, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But many RVers ask, “Isn’t there a better route?” That seems to be a common question on RV forums.

Although friends have shared little short-cuts with us (such as leaving I-15 at Dillon and going 41/55 to Whitehall and 69 into Boulder, avoiding the big climb to Butte), the result of our conversations and research have shown few strong alternatives to the I-15.

Helena, Montana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its winter, we’re not interested in the icy scenery and we just want to get out of the cold. Getting there is not half the fun. All of this points to the I-15 as the best Snowbird path south from Alberta, Montana, and eastern Idaho.

Snowbirds from the Midwest often use Interstate 35 and a combination of several other interstates and secondary highways to reach their Sunbelt roost.

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plotting a route using mapping software or relying exclusively on a GPS generally produces the fastest or shortest route, which isn’t necessarily the best winter driving route for RVs.

7 Feathers Casino RV Resort, off I-5 in Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch the weather and road reports. Leave when you have a three-day window of good weather and clear roads. Mountain driving, with its steep grades and hairpin turns, can be scary enough in the summer especially for those accustomed to gunbarrel-straight highways. However, it’s really the ice and snow that are the big concern.

Durango RV Resort in Red Bluff, off I-5 in northern California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you get caught in a winter storm, wait it out and give the road crews time to clear the highway. Drive carefully leaving extra room between vehicles and allow extra time to stop.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If the weather looks like it will be getting bad, or becomes terrible overnight, then stay put. Much better to spend an extra day in a campground than in a cold RV stranded on a snow-bound highway.

Worth Pondering…

When Robert Frost declared his intention to take the road less traveled in his 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken,” who could have guessed that so many people would take the same trip?

The Absolute Best Places to RV This September

A late summer getaway will make September’s arrival a bit easier to accept

September is a phenomenally underrated month for travel. People seem to disqualify it because they associate it with childhood anxiety about summer ending and going back to school.

Sure, summer is over on paper, but September ushers in that all-too-brief summer sweet spot where surge pricing has ended while sunshine, festival season, and warm nights remain. In places all over the country, September vacations mean cheaper prices, better weather, and much smaller crowds.

Here are the best of them, for your consideration.

And be sure to catch up on all our recommendations for the best places to visit in June, July, and August.

Kentucky

Woodford Reserve Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, September means the return of the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival to Bardstown. Each of those six days is loaded with bourbon tastings, mixology classes, art displays, car shows, and food vendors, which works out to like, 746 things to do in total.

Old Talbot Tavern in Barbstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The events are a mix of ticketed and free, and there is a designated Family Fun Area with train rides to distract the children while you enjoy your jazz and cigars.

Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, later in the month and less than an hour away, you have Louisville’s Bourbon & Beyond, a bourbon, music, and food festival. And despite the theme, it’s open to anyone aged 5 and up.

Gaffney, South Carolina

Gaffney Peachoid © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside of Gaffney, west of where SR-11 crosses over I-85, the route’s colorful and scenic sightseeing begins at the unique “Peachoid.” Towering at 135 feet, the Peachoid is actually a water tower for the town of Gaffney that’s been realistically painted to look like a giant peach perched high in the sky. The color of the peach is remarkably like the palette changes of oaks, hickories, maples, and more during their varied stages of fall colors.

Cowpens National Battlefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing on SR-11, worthwhile stops before Jones Gap State Park include Cowpens National Battlefield, a fascinating Revolutionary War site, and Campbell’s Covered Bridge (the only remaining covered bridge in the state.

Marietta, Ohio

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This charming riverboat town showcases the first city in Ohio and the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory. Since then, Marietta has blossomed into a revitalized main street community known for great food, eclectic shops, and historic hotels. The fun doesn’t end there. There is outdoor adventure galore to be found. Two Rivers, a National Forest and a variety of parks, refuges and wetlands surround the area.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to self-guided tours of the town and trips on the Valley Gem sternwheeler, you can take trolley tours and Hidden Marietta ghost tours.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The marquee event is the free 44th annual Ohio River Sternwheel Festival, which brings 30-plus paddleboats and 100,000 visitors to town September 6-8 (2019); activities include Sunday boat races.

Lodi, California

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lying at the edge of the Sacramento River Delta, Lodi enjoys a classic Mediterranean climate of warm days and cool evenings, ideal for growing wine grapes. For decades, Lodi has been producing an astounding amount of wine grapes for countless wineries throughout California.

Lodi Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wander historic downtown Lodi with century-old brick buildings, brick-cobbled streets lined with elm trees and turn-of-the-century light poles. You’ll love this area and the way the city has maintained its history and heritage. Many unique shops, restaurants, and more than a dozen wine tasting boutiques and exciting restaurants.

Louisiana

St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Louisiana, fall’s arrival is signaled by many things: cheers of “Geaux Tigers” and “Who Dat,” large black pots of steaming gumbo and a calendar jam-packed with fairs and festivals. There are many great fall festivals dedicated to Louisiana’s delicious foods. In Natchitoches, the Meat Pie Festival in mid-September takes place in the historic downtown next to Cane River Lake.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Head over to the Lake Charles area for the Boudin Wars in Sulphur, where local chefs and restaurants battle for the title of best boudin. Sample a wide variety of the tasty Cajun sausage and vote for the winner.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Admire the grandeur and wonders of the Grand Canyon, a powerful and inspiring landscape that overpowers our senses through its immense size. You won’t find similar mixtures of color and erosional formations anywhere else.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The canyon is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and about a mile deep, according to the National Park Service. Just about everywhere you look the views are amazing and the sheer size of it can be overwhelming.

Worth Pondering…

Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast—you miss the sense of where you’re going and why.

—Eddie Cantor

Most Scenic Road Trips in America

These drives aren’t just a road to someplace scenic they are jaw-dropping on their own and will have you constantly looking for places to pull over so you can take more photos

These drives aren’t just a road to something beautiful, they are jaw-dropping on their own.

“To everyone in this country, the car represents freedom, mobility, and the control you feel over your destiny/destination,” said Callie Khouri, Oscar-winning screenwriter of Thelma & Louise.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the dramatic California coast to history-lined thoroughfares of New England, there are countless scenic drives across the country—and some stellar standouts. We’ve picked the routes with heart-stopping vistas. For example, the winding Blue Ridge Parkway, now over 75 years old, winds its way past limestone caverns, clear mountain springs, and Appalachian majesty.

So round up the family, prep the RV, and hit the road. In Khouri’s words—go see what America tastes like.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nearly 500 miles of blacktop twisting through the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks was built for travelers seeking Appalachian overlooks. It’s a panoramic drive for all seasons, with undulating slopes of color in autumn, a bounty of forest canopy in summer, and hot-cider ski resorts in winter.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop: In the mines of the mineral-rich Appalachian Mountains, visitors can pan for emeralds, amethyst, rubies, topaz, and even gold at Emerald Village (Milepost 334).

Route 12, Utah

Highway 12 Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The red rock majesty of Utah is on triumphant display on State Route 12 winding between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon national parks. The 124-mile strip has funky small towns and very few entry points, so it takes a map and determination to witness the steep sandstone canyons and bluffs of purple sage, and to tackle the narrow cliff-hanging ridgeline road called The Hogback.

Highway 12 Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop: The log-and-sandstone Kiva Koffeehouse in Escalante supplies travelers with art, coffee, and views of Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument.

Iron Mountain Road, South Dakota

Iron Mountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What seems like a long bike ride is actually one of the most picturesque portions of pavement in the country and it’s surrounded by fun things to do. Officially known as US Route 16A the Iron Mountain Road twists and turns through a portion of Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Iron Mountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop: The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is the crown-jewel of an Iron Mountain Road trip.

Ocean Drive, Newport, Rhode Island

Ocean Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 10-mile coastal route packs in historic mansions and spectacular views over Narragansett Bay. The Gilded Age “cottages” of Ocean Drive compete with maritime scenery for jaw-dropping splendor, including opulent homes built for titans of industry, the Vanderbilts, Astors, and Morgans.

The Breakers on Ocean Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop: War buffs can visit historic Fort Adams which garrisoned soldiers for more than 125 years.

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina and Tennessee

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel the Cherohala Skyway and enjoy panoramic vistas as you wind through the Southern Appalachian high country. It winds up and over 5,400 foot mountains for 18 miles in North Carolina and descend another 23 miles into the deeply forested back country of Tennessee. The road crosses through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests thus the name “Chero…hala”.Peak colors typically occur during the last two weeks in October.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop: The Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center in Tellico Plains is a “must stop” before starting up the Skyway. Stop by for free maps, Skyway driving conditions and local area souvenirs and gifts.

Gold Rush Trail, California

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The California Gold Rush expended 125 million troy ounces of gold, worth more than $50 billion by today’s standards. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of the gold in the Mother Lode is still in the ground. Many of the historic and picturesque towns that developed in the area still exist, linked by California Highway 49, the Gold Rush Trail.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop: Hangtown, which has since been renamed Placerville, is where the famous “Hangtown Fry” was invented and is still featured on many local menus. An omelet with cheese, bacon, onions, and oysters, the first Hangtown Fry was whipped up during the height of the Gold Rush when a suddenly successful miner demanded, “the most expensive food you’ve got!”

Worth Pondering…

Nothing says summer travel like a road trip, whether you’re venturing to a nearby favorite spot or setting out in search of distant adventures.

Your Ultimate Guide to Planning the Best Summer Road Trip

Map your route, discover amazing places, and hit the road…

Think of 10 people you know. This year, eight of them will take a road trip, that staple of the American vacation.

That’s what research from the American Automobile Association tells us. And that’s what those columns of RVs and cars on the interstates from coast to coast tell us. The call of the RV is more powerful than ever, promising relaxation, family fun, scenic drives, and unusual sights, the stuff of a rich stew of memories.

But where to go and what to do?

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you prepare for your trip, remember that at the end of the day, a campground or RV park is waiting to welcome your family. Could there be a sweeter end to the day providing you made your reservation well in advance?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people visit South Dakota to see the wondrous Mount Rushmore or Badlands National Park, but hidden within the southwestern Black Hills is Custer State Park. Touted as one of the nation’s most recognized wildlife refuges, you’ll see free-roaming herds of bison, elk, and bighorn sheep wandering its 71,000 acres.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travelers are encouraged to drive the park’s scenic byways and loops, as well as seek out its amazing granite peaks via hiking, biking, and horseback. Complete the day by taking a dip in the clear waters of Sylvan Lake, a favorite amongst photographers and artists.

Newport, Rhode Island

Ocean Drive, Newport, Rhode Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nowhere in New England compares to the Gilded-Age splendor of Newport, a coastal town set upon cliffs dotted with some of the most spectacular mansions of the 19th century. The must-do activity here is, obviously, touring the Newport Mansions, but that’s far from the only draw.

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport also hosts the annual Newport Regatta, one of the biggest sailing races in America bringing with it the best sailing parties. Held in July, the Regatta is the ideal time of year to visit, but even if you miss it there are still plenty of wide, sandy beaches to lounge on for the day, and a surprisingly good wine region just on the outskirts of town. 

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Bay St. Louis motto is as unique as the city itself: “A Place Apart.” In 2010 Bay St. Louis was listed as one of the Top 10 Beach Communities in the U.S. by Coastal Living Magazine. Budget Travel magazine named it one of the “Coolest Small Towns in America” in 2013 and Southern Living magazine named Bay St. Louis one of their 50 Best Places in the South in 2016.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive along the Bay and wander the pastel colored buildings and quaint, funky shops of historic Old Town Bay St. Louis including the “Depot,” a two-story building with mission style design. The train depot (c. 1928), is surrounded by park-like grounds.

Route 12, Utah

Highway 12 Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This, one of the most stunning roads in the world, runs from Capitol Reef National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. The route goes for 124 miles at significant altitudes (9,000 feet) and goes through forested mountains to the amazing bald mountains in Boulder.

Highway 12 Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That’s where you should have lunch or dinner at the Hells Backbone Grill. From there the road begins following a narrow ridge along the red canyons of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

Mesilla, New Mexico

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although the town of Mesilla, in Southern New Mexico, is home to a mere 2,196 people, it’s a fascinating place to visit. Here you’ll find well-preserved architecture, history worth delving into, and high quality restaurants.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The plaza is the heart of Mesilla and that’s a good place to start exploring. In fact, it’s a national historic landmark. The San Albino Basilica dominates one side of the plaza. This Romanesque church was built in 1906 although its bells are older, dating back to the 1870s and 1880s.

Worth Pondering…

My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.
—Diane Arbus